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Top 12 Things to Do in Reykjavik

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Reykjavik is a capital city unlike any other, even amongst its Scandinavian neighbours. Though a very small city, with a population of just over 200,000 people, the city is bursting with life and culture. With colourful homes, fascinating museums, and a vibrant art scene, Reykjavik has more to offer than its reputation as a gateway to Iceland’s natural wonders suggests.

In no particular order, here are our top 12 things to do in Reykjavik to break bucket list. If you have time to explore destinations outside of Reykjavik, read our Top Things to do in Iceland article as well.

#1. Visit Hallgrimskirkja

Visiting Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral is a thing to do in Reykjavik
Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral against the evening sky in Reykjavik

Hallgrimskirkja is Iceland’s most well-known church. As one of the country’s tallest structures (it stands at 74.5 metres tall), its impressive and uniquely designed observation tower can be seen from nearly any point in Reykjavik.

Take the lift to the viewing deck near the top of the tower for incredible views of the capital city, its harbour, and the nearby mountains. The observation tower is open daily but is closed on Sundays during mass.

#2. See the Solfar (Sun Voyager) Sculpture

Sun Voyager is a sight to see in Reykjavik
An ode to the sun, The Sun Voyager is a must visit landmark in Reykjavik

The Sun Voyager is possibly one of Reykjavik's most photographed landmarks. Made of steel, the beautiful sculpture resembles a Viking long-ship and is said to be ‘an ode to the sun’ and a symbol of hope and light. Take it in during a stroll along the city’s harbour before visiting the Harpa.

#3. Take in a concert at Harpa

Perhaps the most stunning concert hall in the world, Harpa is a contemporary architectural wonder. The building is made up of geometric glass panels in a rainbow of colours, making it a must-see sight even if you’re unable to take in a concert. The Harpa is home to the Icelandic Symphonic Orchestra and The Icelandic Opera and is regularly visited by musicians, comedians and other performers from around the world.

#4. Experience history at the National Museum of Iceland

Here you can learn all about Iceland’s history, from its settlement up to its struggle for independence. Must-sees include drinking horns from the Settlement Era, the bronze figure of Thor (the Norse god associated with thunder, lightening and strength), and the intricately carved door of a 13th-century church.

Free guided tours are available in English (check with the museum for the most up-to-date schedules), or you can purchase an audio guide if you prefer a self-guided tour.

#5. Go back in time at the Arbaer Open Air Museum

Visiting the Open museum is a must do activity in Reykjavik
Traditional Icelandic houses at the open museum in Reykjavik

When looking for things to do in Reykjavik, this museum is an absolute must –  if you’re looking to understand and appreciate Iceland’s unique history and culture. Explore the more than 20 buildings that make up the museum’s town square, village and farm for a taste of what life was like in Iceland in the past. Domestic animals can also be seen during the summer months.

The museum is open daily year round, although opening times vary between the seasons. Daily guided tours are also available. Admission is free for those between 0-17 years and those 67+ years and older.

#6. Swim in the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is a prime hot spring location in Iceland
People relax in the hot pool at The Blue Lagoon

Arguably Iceland’s most famous attraction, the turquoise coloured thermal pool lives up to its hype (and price tag). Just a short 45 minutes away from Reykjavik city centre, the Blue Lagoon is most conveniently visited on your way to or from Keflavik Airport. Be sure to allocate several hours so you get the chance to fully soak up the water’s minerals.

#7 Feed the ducks at Lake Tjornin

Lake Tjornin is a must visit place in Reykjavik
Ducks and swans on a frozen Lake Tjornin in Reykjavik

Not many cities can boast about having a lake right in their middle! Alongside Reykjavik City Hall and the Frikirkjan Church is Lake Tjornin, a hot spot for ducks and other water fowl. We suggest packing your camera and a picnic - with a few extra slices of bread for your new winged friends.

#8. See the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights seen from Reykjavik
The Northern Lights over the city of Reykjavik

While the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, cannot always be seen from the city, this rare treat should absolutely be on your Reykjavik bucket list. On particularly strong nights (often called an Aurora Blast), head down to the harbour for incredible views of the natural phenomenon.

Check with Icelandic weather channels to determine the strength of the Aurora Borealis on any particular night. However, if you want to see Aurora Borealis in all their splendor, some of the best places to see Northern Lights in Iceland are outside Reykjavik. Recommendations include Akureyri in the north and Landmannalaugar in the south; coincidentally, these places offer some of the best trekking and hiking trails in Iceland.

#9. Experience the city’s nightlife

Micro Bar is the Mecca of beer for all Beer enthusiasts
A bartender pouring draft beers in Micro Bar
Paloma is one of Reykjavík's best late-night dance clubs
Tourists dancing and drinking beers at the Paloma bar

 In the summertime, Iceland sees continuous daylight for approximately three months, making Reykjavik the city that truly never sleeps. No matter the time of year, however, the city has an active nightlife that can’t be missed.

Bars and cafés often remain open until 5am, offering anything from live music to cabaret performances. If music isn’t really your thing, theatre and dance performances, as well as stand-up comedy, also often run well into the early hours. For more, read our Iceland Nightlife: Best Bars in Iceland article.

#10. Visit a unique and alternative museum

Though home to many museums, Reykjavik’s most eccentric museum is the Icelandic Phallological Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of penises and penile parts (more than two hundred in total). It’s not for everyone but is certainly an experience you won’t get anywhere else. 

The museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm, and entry costs just 1500 ISK (2017 prices).

#11. Go shopping on Laugavegur

Laugavegur street (not to be confused with the Laugavegur hiking trail) is one of Iceland’s oldest and trendiest shopping streets. Literally translated into “wash road”, the street once led to hot springs used by local women for washing their laundry. Today, it is home to fashion boutiques, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. Prepare your pocketbook for a serious workout, especially if you’re a fan of Nordic design.

#12. Get a taste of Icelandic nature in Elliðaárdalur

Faced with a quick stopover in Reykjavik, without any time to experience Iceland’s many natural wonders? Consider a quick trip to Elliðaárdalur valley. This public park is a bit of a hidden gem for tourists. While it’s no Skógafoss waterfall, the park features a beautiful waterfall - and it’s completely free to visit!

No matter what you get up to on your visit to Reykjavik - be it visiting museums, strolling through natural parks, or taking in a performance – you will never run out of things to do in Reykjavik. Looking for more? We work with some of the best Iceland tour companies that offer many rural adventures, including the famous Golden Circle and the South Coast. Compare prices and get some of the best deals for Reykjavik tours.

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